Russian journalists continue protests
MOSCOW (AP) — The self-proclaimed new managers of Russia's only nationwide independent television network on Saturday took over NTV, changing the security guards, firing journalists who refused their authority and cutting off the morning news in the midst of the broadcast.
The first real sign of the impact of the seizure of NTV's airwaves came at 8:06 a.m., when anchor Andrei Norkin was cut off in mid-sentence as he attempted to explain just what had happened when the new managers arrived at the station early Saturday morning.
The new managers are led by American financier Boris Jordan, who has warned banks not to deal with the channel until he can move in as the station's head and complete a takeover by natural gas giant Gazprom.
Earlier, a so-called commission on the transfer of property arrived shortly before dawn at NTV's offices to take control of the network, NTV correspondent Alexei Kondulukov said, speaking by telephone from inside the main television tower at Ostankino in northern Moscow.
Kondulukov said NTV was not allowed to begin broadcasting its early morning program, which should already have been on the air in the Russian Far East. Ekho Moskvy, an independent radio station that belongs to NTV's parent company, Media Most, asked listeners to call and let them know what was happening with the station's broadcasts across Russia's 11 time zones.
NTV went on the air at 8:01 a.m. in Moscow, with footage of journalists milling around trying to figure out what to do. Norkin was reading a news broadcast when the station went off the air. NTV later began broadcasting a regularly scheduled comedy about a parrot and a gorilla.
NTV journalists who refuse the new management continued broadcasting on TNT, a smaller channel that also belongs to Media-Most. The broadcast could be seen only in parts of Moscow. After the news, TNT resumed regular programming as well.
Leading NTV journalists who refuse to recognize the new management took down large pictures of themselves that had hung in the halls and left the building after signing a statement they were leaving the station. They went over to the TNT offices across the state.
Earlier, anchor Mariana Maximovskaya said she had been fired and was no longer an NTV anchor.
The state-connected gas giant, Gazprom, a major shareholder and creditor in NTV, voted out the station's management April 3 at a board meeting, a move many of the independent network's employees consider illegal.
NTV claims the Kremlin is behind the takeover of the feisty station, which has provided Russians with some of the country's most critical coverage of the war in Chechnya as well as important corruption scandals and the deterioration of the country's living standards. NTV is Russia's only nationwide network not controlled by the government.
The takeover attempt occurred as Yevgeny Kiselyov, the ousted general director, was in Spain consulting about the station's future with Vladimir Gusinsky, the head of Media-Most. Gusinsky is under house on fraud charges he says are politically motivated. Russia has demanded his extradition for allegedly overstating Media-Most's assets to receive a loan from Gazprom.
``I am afraid for him,'' said Maria Kiselyova, speaking of her husband, who has taken a leading role in defending NTV. ``They (authorities) could do anything to him.''
In an emotional broadcast on Ekho Moskvy, NTV commentator Andrei Cherkizov called Putin ``Pontius Pilate'' and branded the new management a bunch of ``bandits.'' Igor Malashenko, one of the station's founders, said the takeover amounted to a ``creeping coup.''
Since the board meeting that triggered the latest crisis around NTV, the new management has made several attempts to get control of the station.
On Friday, Jordan, the U.S financier of Russian descent who has been named general director of the station, said he had warned banks not to deal with managers of the channel until he can move in as the station's head and complete the takeover.
Jordan said Friday he had received a Russian work permit and would be able to take over in four or five days.
Journalists have said they won't work for Jordan, who showed up at the station early Saturday in the company of two leading NTV journalists who left the network after Gazprom took it over. He showed NTV's lawyers a paper he said stripped them of their power of attorney.
A Moscow court is to hold hearings in May on the validity of Jordan's appointment. Jordan said he would step down if his appointment is deemed illegal. NTV has already lost one court case in the matter.
In a new government attack on NTV, the Russian Media Ministry on Friday accused the network of supporting terrorism by broadcasting an interview with a rebel leader from breakaway Chechnya.
Russian authorities insist on calling Chechen rebels terrorists, and Media Minister Mikhail Lesin has banned broadcasting of statements by guerrilla leaders.
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